Bar a few dissenting student voices, Junior and Leaving Cert exams seem to have gotten off to a start as good as can be expected in schools around the county.
Just under 2,000 Offaly students are now three days into exams. Some 881 students are sitting their Leaving Cert exams, while 999 are sitting Junior Cert exams. The Leaving Cert number is made up of 471 female students and 410 male students, while the Junior Cert breakdown is 492 female students and 507 males. A further 46 males and females are taking Leaving Cert Applied exams.
Speaking on the second day of exams, principal of St Brendan's Community School in Birr Tom Foley praised the current student-friendly bad weather. "It keeps them calm and focussed," he said. "If we had blazing sunshine there'd be a certain temptation to be outside relaxing. This weather helps to keep a nice air of focused concentration."
Weather aside, Mr Foley said exams appear to be going very smoothly with no surprises. Students are quite composed, he said, especially now that the first day of exams is over. "Mentally I think they're far happier once they get into the run of things," he said. "When they get into the routine a lot of the tension goes. The anxiety of the unknown before exams start is the big stresser."
Over in Gallen Community School in Ferbane the same air of calm is prevalent according to Vice Principal Ursula Finnegan. The school canteen, run by Emma's Cafe in Birr, has been opening every morning at 8.30am. This gives students a chance to have breakfast or a cup of tea or coffee, maybe meet teachers or just relax before going into the exam hall.
Ms Finnegan said Gallen students were pleased with both English and Home Economics papers, with no surprises in either. "They're very calm and relaxed," she said of her charges. "Things are going really well."
Sacred Heart School student Laura Dunne from Tullamore would dispute that. Speaking after her first two exams on Wednesday she exclaimed that she "didn't think they were going to be this hard!". A beaming smile on her face betrayed a relaxed attitude however, as she calmly prepared for her second English paper.
In general Sacred Heart School students thought the first Leaving Cert English paper was "grand". Eighteen year old Chloe Kelly from Geashill was pleasantly surprised as she thought her exams "would be harder", and 17 year old Shannon Raferty from Croghan agreed they were "a lot easier than I thought they were going to be". Brenda Crowe said there were a few questions she got a bit stuck on in Home Economics, but overall it was better than she had expected.
The Home Economics paper did ruffle a few feathers though. Nicola Pender, Sarah Sheridan and Laura Buggle all thought it didn't do them any favours. "English was grand, but Home Ec not so much," Nicola said. "Things came up that I didn't really expect." Laura went a little further, saying the Home Ec exam paper was "a lot harder than a lot of the past papers". "I've never seen anything like it before," she said after the exam. "It was just a really hard paper."
Leaving Cert Applied student Eden Stanley took English and Social Education exams on her first day and found English "alright" and Social Education "hard enough". Meanwhile Junior Cert student Melissa Sheehan took everything in her stride after a long day of two "grand" English exams behind her and two gruelling Irish papers ahead.
Over in Edenderry Deputy Principal of Oaklands Community College Richard Murphy said his students almost appeared "too happy" on their second day of exams. "I don't know whether that's a good thing or a bad thing," he laughed. "We'll find out in August I suppose!" Overall however, he said students appeared to have had a good start to exams across both the Junior and Leaving Cert.
Both Leaving and Junior Cert students finish their first exam week today with Geography and Maths Paper 1, while Leaving Cert Applied students take Mathematical Applications and Hotel Catering and Tourism exams. The Junior Cert exams will continue until June 23 while the final Leaving Cert exam is scheduled for June 24. Due to the nature of subject choices a lot of students will complete their own exam timetable before these dates.